News was relatively scarce this past week due to the Thanksgiving Day holiday, but what news was released was, for the most part, encouraging.

The news on existing home sales was particularly encouraging. Sales rose to an annual rate of 4.97 million units in October, which easily beat the consensus estimate for 4.8 million units. The bump up in sales helped drop inventory to an eight-month supply compared to September's 8.3-month supply. Year-over-year, inventory levels have dropped nearly three months.

Existing home sale prices were a little softer than we had expected, with the national median home price easing 2 percent month-over-month to $162,000. Discounting was prevalent in condo sales, but much less so in the single-family detached segment.

Shadow inventory has weighed heavily on prices for the past three years, but this market is also improving. Standard & Poor's, citing improvements in third-quarter default and liquidation rates, lowered its estimate of the time it will take to reduce excess stock to 45 months from 47 months. That's still a lot of inventory, but the goods news is that we are making headway.Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data also point to an improving distressed-property market. The FDIC reports that inventory held by private banks dropped for the fourth-straight quarter to $50.4 billion worth of properties at the end of September, a 1.5-percent decline compared to the previous quarter and a 5-percent decline from a year ago.

There was some negative news on the economy, but it wasn't as negative as many news outlets led us to believe. Gross Domestic Product was downgraded to 2.0-percent annualized growth from a previously stated 2.5 percent. When we dug into the numbers, we found that the downgrade was much ado about little; the revision was mostly attributable to a $13-billion decrease in inventory investment.Last week, we mentioned the good news that fixed-asset investment is trending higher. This week, we are glad to note that consumer spending continues to trend higher. Personal consumption grew 0.1 percent for October, which might seem insignificant, but October's consumption follows a very strong 0.7 percent increase in September.

We haven't seen much improvement in mortgage rates over the past two weeks, which has resulted in a slowdown in refinance activity. That could be about to change. The recently revamped Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), with higher loan-to-value ratios and appraisal waivers for qualified buyers, is sure to spur refinance demand. In fact, more than 1 million borrowers are expected to benefit from the new HARP.This means a change in the demand/supply paradigm. When demand for borrowing increases, mortgage rates tend to rise, not fall. We advise our clients (especially clients who already qualify for a refinance under the current rules) not to wait for the new HARP rules to kick into gear.

Courtesy of Jessica Regan.

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